Friday, 28 May 2010

Flashback: Hercules

Few people believe that Disney had anything good to offer at 1994’s brilliant The Lion King. Luckily, I’m one of those few. I think Mulan is an obvious choice as something excellent, but the one that I hold even dearer and the one’s that less remembered is 1997’s Hercules. Only recently Luke pointed to a brilliant musical piece from the film, so I guess I’m not the only thinking about it at the moment. Of course, the film isn’t really an accurate account of the Hercules myth – like all thing’s Disney it’s simplified – but enchantingly so. I’d probably be moved to call the score for Hercules its triumph, and it’s really one of the best they’ve put out.
The story begins with the five muses who begin to recount the story of the great Hercules. It’s a clever choice from the filmmakers. It’s more personal than a narrator, but narration is necessary and the five muses (who are hilarious, I might add) do just enough to make this story accessible while keeping it in its time. This was back in the day before all animated films needed recognisable voices, since the film is littered with big Broadway stars that most of us probably don’t know. And it’s Broadway star Susan Egan who delivers on point voice work as Meg who stands out as the film’s star. Her role is shorter than most heroines, and she’s definitely more nuanced and Egan’s atypical smoky voice (atypical for Disney at least) that make her so memorable. It’s a pity she only gets one number, but she knocks it out of the park with “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” accompanied by the muses.
However, like so many of the stories from Disney Hercules is not just concerned with legend and romance. Like The Lion King before it (and in some ways even The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast) it examines the relationship between children and parents. It’s not quite as invasive as The Lion King but it does a good job nonetheless. And Hercules is also lucky enough to have one of Disney’s most macabre villains. Unlike so many animated films it doesn’t aim to drown all its poignancy in silliness and though it does give in to the sentimental on occasion it still manages to remain honest. Sure, it doesn’t make my top 100 – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t love it still. It’s worthy of your time and remembrance…and that’s the Gospel Truth!


Luke said...

The score truly is a triumph here. For the Greek chorus element to be played by a gospel quintet is a capital idea! And great point about the voice work - it's something I truly don't understand about many animated movies today. Why is it that they go with famous voices as opposed to individuals who are simply great at voice work? They need to use more Christine Cavanaugh and Dan Castallaneta and less Brangelina.

joe burns said...

Love this movie! It's one of the most memorable of my childhood!

Darren said...

I think that post-Lion King Disney gets a bad wrap. I think that any number of the films which followed relatively swiftly (right up until maybe Tarzan) were solid films. then the CGI revolution happened and Disney just got left in the cold making animated spin-offs and sequels.

Of this period, I'll also stand up for Lilo & Stitch and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

They aren't as good, in my opinion, as good as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, but - and I'll get myself in trouble for saying this - I don't think that some of what came before could stand up to them either.

Robert said...

I agree with Luke, the score is wonderful! I absolutely love the Muses especially, and it's one of the most fun Disney musicals out there.

Yojimbo_5 said...

I see this as minor Disney in the post-modern era, but you gotta love James Woods as the villain--and Disney's master animators for keeping up with him!

Angie said...

This is BY FAR my fave Disney film. We even reviewed the soundtrack a while ago, so you're not the only one thinking about it :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

everyone glad to see love for this one.

luke, robert that score indeed is excellent. i'm always so sorry that there are so few songs but each one is useful and well written (and sung, obviously).

darren hunchback iis a good one too, even if it's one where i really don't like the pat ending. phoebus will always be the bastard to me that he was in hugo's novel.

yojimbo duly noted.

angie, joe glad you're both such avid fans.